Our readers will be somewhat prepared for the case of these notorious criminals by the perusal of the proceedings of those persons, whose discontent had already brought them within the lash of the law; as well as by the repetition of the name of Thistlewood, whose acquaintance and connection with Dr. "Watson and the other Radical leaders of the day had rendered him a person whom the officers of justice deemed it wise to keep under their surveillance. The plot to which he was a party in the year 1820, and his engagement in which cost him his life, had for its object neither more nor less than the assassination of the whole of his majesty's ministers, and the consequent overthrow of the government.
It was not until the 24th February 1820, that the public were made aware of the existence of the infernal machinations of this band of desperadoes, and then only did they learn it through the medium of the public press, which at once announced its existence and its frustration. Ere the morning had passed, however, a proclamation was plentifully distributed throughout the leading thoroughfares of the metropolis, offering a reward of 1000l. for the apprehension of the notorious Arthur Thistlewood, on a charge of high treason and murder; and denouncing the heaviest penalties against all who should harbour or conceal him from justice.
It would appear that it had been long known to the members of the government, that a plan was in meditation by which they would all be murdered, and that Thistlewood was one of the originators of and prime movers in the horrid design; but in accordance with the system which then existed, of waiting until the crime should be all but matured, in order to secure a conviction of the offenders, they determined to make no effort to crush the scheme until a period should have arrived, when their own safety rendered it necessary. The conspirators meanwhile having weighed various plans and projects for the accomplishment of their object, eventually determined to select the evening of Wednesday the 23rd February as that on which they would carry out their plot, and it was deemed advisable that this night should be fixed upon, because it became known to them by an announcement in the newspapers, that a cabinet dinner would then be held at the house of Lord Harrowby in Grosvenor-square. Contemptible as the means possessed by the conspirators were to carry their design fully into execution, it is certain, from the confession of one of them, that the first part of their project was planned with so much circumstantial exactness, that the assassination of all the ministers would have been secured. It would appear that it was arranged, that one of the party should proceed to Lord Harrowby's house with a parcel addressed to his lordship, and that when the door opened, his companions should rush in, bind, or, in case of resistance, kill the servants, and occupy all the avenues of the house, while a select band proceeded to the chamber where the ministers were at dinner, and massacred the whole of them indiscriminately. To increase the confusion hand-grenades were prepared, which it was intended should be thrown lighted into the several rooms; and one of the party engaged to bring away the heads of lords Castlereagh and Sidmouth in a bag which he had provided for that purpose.
Thus far the conspirators might probably have carried their plans into effect; but of the scheme for a general revolution, which these men, whose number never exceeded thirty, appear to have considered themselves capable of accomplishing, we cannot seriously speak. Among other arrangements the Mansion House, selected we suppose for its proximity to the Bank, was fixed upon for the "palace of the provisional government."
The place chosen for the final organization of their proceedings, and for collecting their force previous to immediate action, was a half-dilapidated tenement in an obscure street called Cato-street, near the Edgware-road. The premises were composed of a stable, with a loft above, and had been for some time unoccupied. The people in the neighbourhood were ignorant that the stable was let, till the day fixed upon for the perpetration of their atrocious purpose, when several persons, some of whom carried sacks and other packages, were seen to go in and out, and carefully to lock the door after them.
The information upon which ministers proceeded, in frustrating the schemes of the conspirators, was derived from a man named Edwards, who pretended to enter into their views, for the purpose of betraying them.
Thus accurately informed of the intentions of the gang, measures were taken for their apprehension. A strong body of constables and police-officers, supported by a detachment of the guards, was ordered to proceed to Cato-street, under the direction of Mr. (afterwards Sir Richard) Birnie, the magistrate. On arriving at the spot they found that the conspirators had taken the precaution to place a sentinel below, and that the only approach to the loft was by passing up a ladder, and through a trap-door so narrow as not to admit more than one at a time. Ruthven led the way, followed by Ellis, Smithers, and others of the Bow-street patrole, and on the door being opened they discovered the whole gang, in number between twenty and thirty, hastily arming them selves. There was a carpenter's bench in the room, on which lay a number of cutlasses, bayonets, pistols, sword-belts, and a considerable quantity of ammunition. Ruthven, upon bursting into the loft, announced himself as a peace-officer, and called upon them to lay down their arms. Thistlewood stood near the door with a drawn sword, and Smithers advanced upon him, when the former made a lunge, and the unfortunate officer received the blade in his breast, and almost immediately expired.
About this time the guards, who had been delayed in consequence of their having entered the street at the wrong end, arrived under the command of Captain (Lord Adolphus) Fitzclarence, and mounted the ladder; but as the conspirators had extinguished the lights, fourteen or fifteen of them succeeded in making their escape, and Thistlewood, the chief of the gang, was among the number. A desperate conflict now took place, and at length nine persons were made prisoners; namely Ings, Wilson, Bradburn, Gilchrist, Cooper, Tidd, Monument, Shaw, and Davidson. The whole of them were immediately conveyed to Bow-street, together with a large quantity of arms, consisting of pistols, guns, swords and pikes, and a large sack full of hand-grenades, besides other ammunition, which had been found in the loft. The same means, by which the conspiracy had been discovered, were now adopted in order to procure the discovery of the hiding-place of Thistlewood, and it was found that instead of his returning to his own lodgings in Stanhope-street, Clare Market, on the apprehension of his fellows, he had gone to an obscure house, No.8 White-street, Moorfields. On the morning of the 24th February, at nine o'clock, Lavender and others of the Bow-street patrol were despatched to secure his apprehension; and after planting a guard round the house, so as to prevent the possibility of his escaping, they entered a room on the ground-floor, where they found the object of their inquiry in bed, with his stockings and breeches on. In his pockets were found some ball-cartridges and flints, a black girdle or belt, which he was seen to wear at Cato-street, and a military sash.
He was first conveyed to Bow-street, and there shortly examined by Sir R. Birnie, by whom he was subsequently conducted to Whitehall, where he was introduced to the presence of the Privy Council. He was still handcuffed, but he mounted the stairs leading to the council-chamber with great alacrity. On his being informed of the nature of the charges made against him, by the lord chancellor, he declined saying anything and was remanded to prison. In the course of the week several other persons were apprehended as being accessories to the plot; and on the 3rd March, Thistlewood, Monument, Brunt, Ings, Wilson, Harrison, Tidd, and Davidson, were committed to the Tower as state prisoners, the rest of the persons charged being again sent to Coldbath-fields prison, where they had been previously confined.
The case of the parties to this most diabolical conspiracy immediately received the attention of the law officers of the crown; and on the 15th April 1820, a special commission having issued, the prisoners were arraigned at the bar of the Old Bailey on the charge of high treason, and also of murder, in having caused the death of the unfortunate Smithers. There were eleven prisoners, Arthur Thistlewood, William Davidson (a man of colour), James Ings, John Thomas Brunt, Richard Tidd, James Wilson, John Harrison, Richard Bradburn, John Shaw Strange, James Gilchrist, and Charles Cooper, and they all pleaded Not guilty to the charges preferred against them.
Counsel having been assigned to the prisoners, and the necessary forms having been gone through, Thistlewood received an intimation that his case would be taken on Monday morning the 17th of the same month, and the prisoners were remanded to that day.
At the appointed time, accordingly, Arthur Thistlewood was placed at the bar. He looked pale, but evinced his usual firmness. The jury having been sworn, and the indictment read, the attorney-general stated the case at great length, and twenty-five witnesses were examined in support of the prosecution, among whom were several accomplices, whose testimony was satisfactorily corroborated. Some of those who appeared to give evidence had been apprehended on the fatal night in Cato-street, but were now admitted witnesses for the crown. After a trial which occupied the court four days, Thistlewood was found Guilty of high treason. He heard the verdict with his wonted composure, seeming to have anticipated it; for when it was pronounced he appeared quite indifferent to what so fatally concerned him.
The evidence against Tidd, Ings, Davidson, and Brunt, whose trials came on next in succession, differed little from that upon which Thistlewood was convicted, and they were also found Guilty. Their trials being separate, occupied the court six days. On the evening of the tenth day the six remaining prisoners, at the suggestion of their counsel, pleaded Guilty, having been permitted to withdraw their former plea, by which they eventually escaped capital punishment.
On Friday, April the 28th, the eleven prisoners were brought up to receive sentence. When the usual question was put to Thistlewood by the clerk of arraigns, why he should not receive sentence to die, he pulled a paper from his pocket, and read as follows: --
"I am asked, my lord, what I have to say that judgment of death should not be passed upon me according to law. This to me is mockery -- for were the reasons I could offer incontrovertible, and were they enforced even by the eloquence of a Cicero, still would the vengeance of my Lords Castlereagh and Sidmouth be satiated only in the purple stream which circulates through a heart more enthusiastically vibrating to every impulse of patriotism and honour, than that of any of those privileged traitors to their country, who lord it over the lives and property of the sovereign people with barefaced impunity. The reasons which I have, however, I will now state -- not that I entertain the slightest hope from your sense of justice or from your pity. -- The former is swallowed up in your ambition, or rather by the servility you descend to, to obtain the object of that ambition -- the latter I despise; justice I demand; if I am denied it, your pity is no equivalent. In the first place, I protest against the proceedings upon my trial, which I conceive to be grossly partial, and contrary to the very spirit of justice; but, alas! the judges, who have heretofore been considered the counsel of the accused, are now, without exception, in all cases between the crown and the people, the most implacable enemies of the latter. -- In every instance, the judges charge the jury to find the subject guilty; nay, in one instance, the jury received a reprimand, and that not in the genteelest terms, for not strictly obeying the imperious mandate from the bench.
"The court decided upon my trial to commit murder rather than depart in the slightest degree from its usual forms; nay, it is with me question if the form is usual, which precluded me from examining witnesses to prove the infamy of Adams, of Hieden, and of Dwyer. Ere the solicitor-general replied to the address of my counsel, I applied to the court to hear my witnesses: the court inhumanly refused, and I am in consequence to be consigned to the scaffold. Numerous have been the instances in which this rule of court has been infringed; but to have infringed it in my case would have been to incur the displeasure of the crown, and to forfeit every aspiring hope of promotion. A few hours hence I shall be no more, but the nightly breeze which shall whistle over the silent grave that shall protect me from its keenness, will bear to your restless pillow the memory of one, who lived but for his country, and died when liberty and justice had been driven from its confines, by a set of villains, whose thirst for blood is only to be equalled by their activity in plunder. For life, as it respects myself, I care not -- but while yet I may, I would rescue my memory from the calumny, which I doubt not will be industriously heaped upon it, when it will be no longer in my power to protect it. I would explain the motives which induced me to conspire against the ministers of his majesty, and I would contrast them with those which those very ministers have acted upon in leading me to my ruin. To do this, it will be necessary to take a short review of my life for a few months prior to my arrest for the offence for which I am to be executed, without a trial, or at least without an impartial one, by a jury of my peers. 'Tis true the form, the etiquette of a trial, has been gone through; but I challenge any of the judges on the bench to tell me, to tell my country, that justice was not denied me in the very place where justice only should be administered. I challenge them to say that I was fairly tried; I challenge them to say if I am not murdered, according to the etiquette of a court, falsely called of justice? I had witnesses in court to prove that Dwyer was a villain beyond all example of atrocity. I had witnesses in court to prove that Adams was a notorious swindler, and that Hieden was no better; these were the three witnesses -- indeed almost the only ones against me -- but the form and rules of court must not be infringed upon to save an unfortunate individual from the scaffold. I called those witnesses at the close of Mr. Adolphus' address to the jury, and before the solicitor-general commenced his reply, but the court decided that they could not be heard. Some good men have thought, and I have thought so too, that before the jury retired all evidence was in time for either the prosecutor or the accused, and more particularly for the latter; nay, even before the verdict was given, that evidence could not be considered too late. Alas! such people drew their conclusion from principles of justice only; they never canvassed the rules of court, which have finally sealed my unhappy doom.
"Many people, who are acquainted with the barefaced manner in which I was plundered by my Lord Sidmouth, will, perhaps, imagine that personal motives instigated me to the deed, but I disclaim them. My every principle was for the prosperity of my country; my every feeling, the height of my ambition, was the securing the welfare of my starving brother Englishmen. I keenly felt for their miseries; but when their miseries were laughed at, and when because they dared to express those miseries, they were cut down by hundreds, inhumanly massacred and trampled upon, when infant babes were sabred in their mothers' arms, nay, when the breast from whence they drew the tide of life was severed from the body which supplied that life, my feelings became too intense, too excessive for endurance, and I resolved on vengeance -- I resolved that the lives of the instigators should be the requiem to the souls of the murdered innocents.
"In this mood I met with George Edwards, and if any doubt should remain upon the minds of the public whether the deed I meditated was virtuous or contrary, the tale I will now relate will convince them, that in attempting to exercise a power which the law had ceased to have, I was only wreaking national vengeance on a set of wretches unworthy of the name or character of men.
"This Edwards, poor and penniless, lived near Pickett-street in the Strand, some time ago, without a bed to lie upon, or a chair to sit in. Straw was his resting-place; his only covering a blanket. Owing to his bad character, and his swindling conduct, he was driven from thence by his landlord. It is not my intention to trace him through his immorality: suffice it to say, that he was in every sense of the word a villain of the deepest atrocity. His landlord refused to give him a character Some short time after this, he called upon his landlord again; but mark the change in his appearance; dressed like a lord, in all the folly of the reigning fashion. He now described himself as the right heir to a German baron, who had been some time dead; that Lords Castlereagh and Sidmouth had acknowledged his claims to the title and property; had interfered in his behalf with the German government, and supplied him with money to support his rank in society. From this period I date his career as a government spy.
"He got himself an introduction to the Spenceans, by what means I am not aware of; and thus he became acquainted with the reformers in general. When I met with Edwards, after the massacre at Manchester, he described himself as very poor; and after several interviews, he proposed a plan for blowing up the House of Commons. This was not my view. I wished to punish the guilty only, and therefore I declined it. He next proposed that we should attack the ministers at the fete given by the Spanish ambassador. This I resolutely opposed: because the innocent would perish with the guilty: besides, there were ladies invited to the entertainment, and I, who am shortly to ascend the scaffold, shuddered with horror at the idea of that, a sample of which had previously been given by the agents of government at Manchester, and which the ministers of his majesty applauded. Edwards was ever ready at invention; and at length he proposed attacking them at a cabinet dinner. I asked where were the means to carry his project into effect? He replied, if I would accede, we should not want for means. He was as good as his word: from him, notwithstanding his apparent penury, the money was provided for purchasing the stores which your lordships have seen produced in court upon my trial. He who was never possessed of money to pay for a pint of beer, had always plenty to purchase arms or ammunition. Amongst the conspirators, he was ever the most active; ever inducing people to join him, up to the last hour ere the undertaking was discovered.
"I had witnesses in court, who could prove they went to Cato-street by appointment with Edwards, with no other knowledge or motive than that of passing an evening amongst his friends. I could also have proved, that subsequent to the fatal transaction, when we met in Holborn, he endeavoured to induce two or three of my companions to set fire to houses and buildings in various parts of the metropolis. I could prove that, subsequent to that again, he endeavoured to induce men to throw hand-grenades into the carriages of the ministers, as they passed through the streets; and yet this man, the contriver, the instigator, the entrapper, is secured from justice, and from exposure, by those very men, who seek vengeance against the victims of his and their villainy. To the attorney and solicitor generals I cannot impute the clearest motives: their object seems to me to have been rather to secure a verdict against me, than to obtain a full and fair exposition of the whole affair, since its commencement. If their object was justice alone, why not bring Edwards as a witness, if not as an accomplice? but no, they knew that by keeping him in the back-ground, my proofs, ay my incontrovertible proofs, of his being a hired spy, the suggester and promoter, must, according to the rules of court, also be excluded, Edwards and his accomplices arranged matters in such a manner as that his services might be dispensed with on the trial, and thus were the jury cut off from every chance of ascertaining the real truth. Adams, Hieden, and Dwyer, were the agents of Edwards, and truly he made a most admirable choice, for their invention seems to be inexhaustible.
"With respect to the immorality of our project, I will just observe, that the assassination of a tyrant has always been deemed a meritorious action. Brutus and Cassius were lauded to the very skies for slaying Caesar; indeed, when any man, or any set of men, place themselves above the laws of their country, there is no other means of bringing them to justice, than through the arm of a private individual. If the laws are not strong enough to prevent them from murdering the community, it becomes the duty of every member of that community to rid the country of its oppressors. High treason was committed against the people at Manchester, but justice was closed against the mutilated, the maimed, and the friends of those, who were upon that occasion indiscriminately massacred. The Prince, by the advice of his ministers, thanked the murderers, still reeking in the gore of their hapless victims. If one spark of honour, if one spark of independence still glimmered in the breasts of Englishmen, they would have risen to a man. Insurrection then became a public duty; and the blood of the victims should have been the watchword to vengeance on their murderers. The banner of independence should have floated in the gale, that brought their wrongs and their sufferings to the metropolis. Such, however, was not the case; Albion is still in the chains of slavery. I quit it without regret,-- I shall soon be consigned to the grave,-- my body will be immured beneath the soil whereon I first drew breath,-- my only sorrow is, that that soil should be a theatre for slaves, for cowards, for despots. My motives, I doubt not, will hereafter be justly appreciated. I will now conclude, therefore, by stating that I shall consider myself as murdered, if I am to be executed on the verdict obtained against me, by the refusal of the court to hear my evidence.
"I could have proved Dwyer to be a villain of the blackest dye, for since my trial, an accomplice of his, named Arnold, has been capitally convicted at this very bar, for obtaining money under circumstances of au infamous nature. I seek not pity; I demand but justice. I have not had a fair trial, and upon that ground I protest that judgment ought not to be passed against me."
The Lord Chief Justice, during the reading of this address, more than once interposed, to prevent the prisoner from either seeming to justify assassination, or slandering the characters of witnesses who had appeared to give evidence in that court. The prisoner, however, proceeded to read till he had finished what had been written on the paper in his hand. His manner was rapid and confused; and the mode in which he pronounced several words, gave abundant evidence that this paper was not his own composition.
Mr. Shelton then put the same question to Davidson, who spoke with great vehemence, and much gesticulation, nearly as follows: --
"My lords, you ask me what I have to say why I should not receive judgment to die for what has been said against me. I answer, that I protest against the proceedings in this trial in toto. In the first place, I always thought that in a court of justice, the balance of justice was held with an even hand. But this has not been the case with me; I stand here helpless and friendless. I endeavoured to show that the evidence against me was contradictory and incredible, and I hoped I had made an impression on the gentlemen in the box; but the moment I was done, the attorney-general got up and told them, that the evidence was pure and uncontaminated, and to this I may add, that Baron Garrow almost insisted that they should pronounce me guilty. I would ask, has any person identified me but the officers? who, every one knows, have at all times been instrumental in the death of innocent persons. I do not now plead for my life; I know I must fall a victim to the vengeance of my enemies. But in what manner have I been guilty of high treason? It would seem I was a silent spectator; none of the witnesses impute to me a single observation. Now is this probable? I had always got a great deal to say for myself, consequently I was not the person who would stand by without uttering a word; and yet such has been the testimony of Adams. Then, with regard to the blunderbuss, I have already explained that this was not mine, and that I acted in that affair entirely as the agent of Edwards. I have also declared how I came by the sword, and I now declare upon my soul, which will shortly appear before its Maker, that I never made any blow at any man, or discharged any carbine. As for Munday, the man who swore that I had a long sword, with a pair of pistols in my girdle, who is he? He is a poor labouring man, who comes here for his day's pay and his victuals, to swear away the life of a fellow-creature, and to support the unfounded charge against me that I meant to assassinate his Majesty's ministers. I appeal to any man, whether it is upon such evidence that the life of an innocent man is to be sacrificed? But even supposing, for the sake of argument, that the lives of his Majesty's ministers were threatened, it did not follow that this was to extend to the king himself. In a passage of Magna Charta, it was ordained that twenty-five barons should be nominated to see that the terms of the charter were not infringed; and if it was found his Majesty's ministers were guilty of such infringement, then four barons were to call upon them for redress. If this were not granted, then the four barons were to return to their brethren, by whom the people were to be called together to take up arms, and assert their rights. Such an act was not considered, in old times, as an act of treason towards the king, however hostile it might be towards his ministers. But this does not apply to me. I had no intention of joining in any scheme whatever, either to put down my king, or to murder his ministers. I was entrapped by Goldsworthy and Edwards, in order, for some private purposes of their own, that they might have my life sworn away. I have no objection to tender my life in the service of my country; but let me at least, for the sake of my children, save my character from the disgrace of dying a traitor. For my children only do I feel, and when I think of them, I am deprived of utterance . I can say no more."
Ings, on being called upon, said, "I have very little to say, for my abilities will not allow me to speak. If Mr. Edwards had not got acquainted with me, I should not be here; he came to me, unfortunately, when I had no business, nor any means of getting a living for my family. I entered into the conspiracy only through him, and it was only necessity and the want of means to support my wife and family that brought me here. It is only through Edwards that I shall lose my life. I do not mind dying, if you will let that man come forward and die with me on the scaffold; for it was through him that I was going to do that which, I must allow, was of a most disgraceful and inhuman nature. On the other hand, his Majesty's ministers conspire together, and impose laws to starve me and my family, and my fellow-countrymen; and if I were going to assassinate these ministers, I do not see that it is so bad as starvation. There is another thing, a meeting was called at Manchester, under the protection of the law of England, for which our forefathers died, and which King John signed in the open air. This meeting was called under the protection of that law, for the people to petition parliament to give them their rights; but previous to the business of the meeting, the Manchester yeomanry rode in among them, and cut down men, women, and children, in a manner that was a disgrace to the very name of Englishmen. Those yeomen had their swords ground beforehand, and I had a sword ground also, but I do not see any harm in that. I shall suffer, no doubt; but I hope my children will live to see justice done to their bleeding country: I would rather die like a man, than live like a slave. I am sorry I have not power to say more; I shall therefore withdraw."
John Thomas Brunt next addressed the court in the following terms:--"I am precluded from saying much: I had intended to have committed to writing my defence, but I have been denied pen, ink, and paper;-- as such, what I have to state will be very short. In the first place, whatever impression I made on the jury yesterday, was knocked down by the Solicitor-General, who appears to me, by his sophistical eloquence, to be capable of making the worst of crimes appear a virtue. And next, with regard to Edwards, to whose machinations I have at last fallen a dupe: he once before nearly entrapped me, when a cabinet dinner was given, I believe, at the Earl of Westmoreland's. He said he had part of the men mustered, but there was not sufficient. He had like to have hooked me, in then, but I happened not to go to the house. No doubt that Hieden was in that plot for me; it was held at the Scotch Arms. Of all the infamous characters on earth, Edwards is the worst; and yet he has been kept altogether out of the view of the court. I protest against the verdict which has been pronounced against me. For my life, if it was sacrificed in the cause of liberty, I care not a farthing; but it is galling to have it sworn away by a set of villains who thirst after blood, merely for the sake of personal gain. Edwards is far more worthy of punishment than any of us. He it was that furnished the arms -- and he it was that goaded us on to our own ruin. He always spoke well of me, and said, if he had a hundred such men as me, he would be satisfied. He knew I was not a shuttle-cock, to be bandied about at pleasure. He knew he could put confidence in my word, and that I would perish before I shrunk from what I undertook." (The prisoner then went on in a strain of strong invective against the witness Adams. After which he referred to the two Monuments. These two persons had been described by the Solicitor-General, as having had no communication with each other, and yet having agreed in all respects in their testimony. Was this the fact? No, for three weeks previous to the trials, they met twice a day at the Tower, rehearsed their story, and thus were enabled to come forward quite perfect in their respective parts. He next adverted to the character of his apprentice Hale, and was casting strong reflections on his conduct – when the chief justice said he could not suffer such observations to be made under such circumstances.
Brunt begged pardon, but said he stated nothing but facts. He next adverted to the conduct of Lords Castlereagh and Sidmouth; "They," he said, "had been the cause of the death of millions, and although he admitted he had conspired to put such men out of the world, still he did not think that amounted to high treason. He was one of those who would have been satisfied with taking off the cabinet ministers; but the verdict against him, of intending to depose his majesty, he contended, was utterly at variance with truth and justice. He had never contemplated any such consequence. He was neither a traitor to his king nor to his country; nor would he suffer any man in his presence to speak irreverently of his sovereign. In undertaking to kill Lord Castlereagh, Lord Sidmouth, and their fellow ministers, he did not expect to save his life -- he was determined to die a martyr in his country's cause, and to avenge the innocent blood shed at Manchester." In conclusion, he said he was willing to suffer for the acts which he had contemplated; but it grieved him to think that he was to suffer for a crime of which he was innocent, namely, High Treason. On these grounds, he protested against the verdict of the jury, as contrary to law and justice.
Richard Tidd was the next called upon. He spoke as follows: --
"My lords and gentlemen, being only found guilty so late last night, I have not had an opportunity to make up any defence. All I can say is, and I positively swear it, that the evidence that has come before you, with the exception of that of Captain Fitzclarence, is utterly false."
James Wilson said, "I am not gifted with the power of talking much, but I mean to say, that I was certainly drawn into this by this Edwards."
John Harrison, and John Shaw Strange, contented themselves with declaring that they had been brought into the matter by Edwards.
James Gilchrist addressed the court in the following terms. "What I shall say in the presence of my God and you is, that till the Wednesday evening at four o'clock, I knew nothing about this business. I was going to look for work, and I had neither money nor bread; so I went to what I was told was to be a supper of the radicals. At six o'clock I met Charles Cooper, who was the only man I knew, and I borrowed a half-penny of him, which with another enabled me to get a pennyworth of bread, and this I eat very sweet. I wish I may never come out of this place if I tell false. We then went into the stable and up stairs, where there was some bread and cheese. I took an old sword and hewed down the loaf, of which others who were as hungry as me partook. I then asked what all these arms were about, and when I heard, I was so shocked that I determined to get away as fast as I could. Soon after the officers and soldiers came, and I thought it my duty to surrender. I now stand here convicted of high treason, after I served my king and country for twelve years, and this is the recompense. Oh, God! -- I have nothing more to say."
Charles Cooper said, he had much to say, but his friends thought it would be imprudent. He said, "he could only declare that he was not guilty of the crime imputed to him."
The crier of the court now proclaimed silence in the usual manner, while sentence of death was passing upon the prisoners: -- and the Lord Chief Justice then proceeded to address the prisoners severally by their respective names.
After a most admirable and affecting speech, he passed sentence in the usual form upon them, directing that after they should have been hanged, their heads should be severed from their bodies, and their bodies divided into four quarters, which should be at the disposal of his majesty.
The execution of Thistlewood, Ings, Brunt, Davidson, and Tidd, took place on the following Monday, at Newgate. Davidson was the only prisoner who did not reject religious consolation; and Thistlewood, when on the scaffold, turned away from the ordinary, with an expression of indifference and contempt.
Thistlewood having been first called upon to ascend the gallows, he did so with much alacrity, and he was immediately followed by Tidd, who shook hands with all his companions, except Davidson, who was standing apart from the rest. At the moment he was going out Ings seized him by the hand, exclaiming with a shout of laughter, "Come, give us your hand; good bye," but the remark was coldly received by the unfortunate convict, who dropped a tear, at the same time making some observation with regard to his "wife and daughter." Ings, however, with the most astonishing degree of levity, cried out "Come, my old cock-o'-wax, keep up your spirits, it will be all over soon," and Tidd appeared to squeeze his hand, and then attempted to run up the steps to the scaffold. In his haste and agitation he stumbled, but he quickly recovered himself, and, with a species of hysterical action, jumped upon the stage, and there stamped his feet as if anxious for the executioner to perform his dreadful office. He was received by the gazing multitude with loud cheers, which he acknowledged by repeated bows. While the executioner was fixing the fatal noose he appeared to recognise a friend at an opposite window, and he nodded to him with much ease and familiarity of manner. He repeatedly turned round and surveyed the assembled mob; and catching sight of the coffins, which were ranged behind the gallows, he smiled upon them with affected indifference and contempt. While waiting for the completion of the preparations for the execution of those whom he had left behind him in the press-room, he, as well as Thistlewood, was observed repeatedly to refresh himself by sucking an orange; but upon Mr. Cotton's approaching him, like that prisoner, he rejected his proffered services.
Ings was the next who was summoned, and while on the scaffold he exhibited the same indecent levity of manner which he had shown in the press-room. He laughed while he sucked an orange, and on his being called, he screamed with a sort of mad effort,
"Oh! give me Death or Liberty!"
to which Brunt, who stood near him, rejoined, "Ay, to be sure: it is better to die free than to live like slaves."
On being earnestly and charitably desired to turn their attention to more serious subjects, and to recollect the existence of a God, into whose presence they would soon be ushered, Brunt said, "I know there is a God; "and Ings, agreeing to this, added "that he hoped he would be more merciful to them than they were then."
Just as the hatch was opening to admit him to the steps of the scaffold, he turned round to Brunt, and smiling, shook him by the hand, and then with a loud voice, cried out, "Remember me to King George the Fourth; God bless him, and may he have a long reign! "Then recollecting that he had left off the suit of clothes in which he had been tried, but which after his conviction he had exchanged for his old slaughtering jacket, because, as he said, he was resolved that Jack Ketch should have no coat of his, he desired his wife might have what clothes he had thrown off. He then said to Mr. Davies, one of the turnkeys, "Well, Mr. Davies, I am going to find out this great secret."
He was again proceeding to sing
"Oh! Give me Death or Liberty!"
when he was called to the platform, upon which he leaped and bounded in the most frantic manner. Then turning himself round towards Smithfield, and facing the very coffin that was soon to receive his mutilated body he raised his pinioned hands, as well as he could, and leaning forward with savage energy, roared out three distinct cheers to the people, in a voice of the most frightful and discordant hoarseness. But it was pleasing to remark, that these unnatural yells of desperation, which were evidently nothing more than the ravings of a disordered mind, or the ebullitions of an assumed courage, were not returned by the motley mass of people who heard them.
Turning his face towards Ludgate-hill, he bowed, and cried out, "Here's the last remains of James Ings!" and again sung aloud, preserving the well-known tune of that song as much as possible,
"Oh! Give me Death or Liberty!
Oh! Give me Death or Liberty!"
Observing some persons near him, and amongst them one who was taking notes, he said, "Mind, I die an enemy to all tyrants. Mind, and put that down!" Upon viewing the coffins, he laughed, and said, "I will turn my back on death. Those coffins are for us I suppose."
At this time Tidd, who had been just spoken to by Thistlewood, was heard to remonstrate with Ings, and to tell him not to make such a noise, adding, "We can die without making a noise;" upon which Ings for a moment was silent; but soon burst out afresh, asking the executioner not to cover his eyes, as he wished to see as long as he could. At another time he said, "Mind you do it well -- pull it tight;" or, as some heard it, "Do it tidy." He also requested to have a greater length of rope to fall; and that at last his eyes should be tightly bandaged round with a handkerchief, which he held in his hand.
Upon the approach of Mr, Cotton he rejected his pious services; but cried out, as if sarcastically, "I hope you'll give me a good character, won't you, Mr. Cotton? "
Davidson was the next summoned; and it is truly gratifying to state the difference that marked the character and conduct of him who had derived his fortitude to face death, and all its awful preparations, from other principles and sources than those from which the others appear to have borrowed their wild determination. He had paid earnest and devoted attention to the consolatory offices bestowed upon him by the ordinary of the jail; and when he was called upon to ascend the scaffold, he did so with a firm and steady step, but with that respectful humiliation which might well be derived from his firm reliance in his Creator's goodness. His lips moved in prayer, and he gently bowed to the people before him; and he continued fervently praying with Mr. Cotton until the last duty of the executioner was performed.
The last summoned to the fatal platform was Brunt, whose conduct presented nothing particularly worthy of remark. The whole of the necessary arrangements were completed within a very few minutes after he had ascended the drop; and the fatal signal being given, the bolt was withdrawn, and the whole of the men almost instantly died. When their bodies had hung for half an hour, a new character entered upon the scaffold -- the person who was to perform that part of the sentence which required the deceased men to be decapitated. He was masked; and from the ready and skilful manner in which he performed his office, it was supposed by many that he was a surgeon. The heads were exhibited successively at the corners of the stage; and the whole ceremony having now been completed, the bodies were carried into the interior of the jail in the coffins, which had been prepared for them.
It will be observed that there were six prisoners remaining, upon whom sentence was not executed. Of these, Gilchrist, who in reality turned out to be no party to the plot, received his majesty's pardon, and the other five were transported for life.
Having thus detailed the circumstances of this most diabolical conspiracy, we shall now give a brief biography of its principal promoters.
Arthur Thistlewood was a native of Horncastle, in Lincolnshire, where he was born in the year 1770, His father was land-steward to a most respectable family in the neighbourhood, and maintained through life an unblemished reputation. The subject of this sketch was, early in life, put to school with a view to his being educated as a land-surveyor; but having exhibited a disinclination for business, at the age of twenty-one, through the instrumentality of his friends, he obtained a lieutenancy in the militia, which he subsequently exchanged for a like commission in a marching regiment. He shortly afterwards married a lady possessed, as he supposed, of a fortune of 10,000l.; but upon his proceeding to make inquiries he found that she was entitled only to a life interest in the money, and that on her decease it would revert to a distant relation. Sixteen months after this marriage, Mrs. Thistlewood died in childbed, and her husband was left without a shilling. He had, however, retained his commission, and at the commencement of the revolutionary war he accompanied his regiment to the West Indies, but he soon gave up his rank, and quitting the army, he proceeded to America. From thence he sailed to France, where he arrived soon after the fall of the tyrant Robespierre; and there he became fully initiated into all the feelings and doctrines of the revolutionists. He afterwards entered the French army, and was present at several battles; and although a person of moderate capacity, he obtained a considerable knowledge of military tactics. He was besides a good swordsman, and possessed undeniable courage. His habitual hatred of oppression, it appears, involved him in many disputes; and it is but justice to say that most of these redound to his credit. After the peace of Amiens, he returned to England, and found himself possessed of a considerable estate, which accrued to him on the death of a relative; but his evil genius still accompanied him. He sold his property to a person at Durham for ten thousand pounds, who becoming a bankrupt before the money was paid, Thistlewood found himself again reduced to comparative poverty.
His father and brother, both of whom resided in Lincolnshire, now took a farm and stocked it for him; but in consequence of the high rent and taxes he found himself an annual loser by the speculation, and, in consequence, abandoned agriculture. Previous to this, however, he had been married to his second wife, Miss Wilkinson of Horncastle, a woman who perfectly coincided in the political opinions of her husband. Driven from the country, he repaired to London with his wife, and contracted an acquaintance with the Spenceans. A propensity to gaming seems to have been the first step to his ruin. In early life he lost considerable sums at the hells of London, and this vicious habit did not abandon him in his later years, as it was well known that the gaming-table was his only resource against the pressing demands of his family, precarious as must have been the subsistence derived from such a pursuit.
In London, his constant companions were, the Watsons, Evans, and others of the same character: and the consequence of this connexion the reader may learn by a reference to the case of Dr. Watson, which we have already given. His imprisonment on that charge might have taught him prudence, but he was scarcely released from incarceration when he sent a challenge, to fight a duel, to Lord Sidmouth; the consequence of which was a motion in the Court of King's Bench, and Thistlewood was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in Horsham Jail.
Before this last confinement his dress was genteel, and his air that of a military man; but, after his release from Horsham Jail, his appearance indicated extreme poverty.
Oppressed by want, and instigated by revenge, he forgot the lessons misfortune should have taught him; and listening to the sanguinary suggestions of others, entered but too eagerly into the plot, for his connexion with which he was executed. The police watched his movements, and his every word and action were known to the secretary of state. Strange, indeed, was the infatuation he laboured under; and, if we look upon him as perfectly sane, his conduct must appear unaccountable. He had already been the dupe of a government spy. But the wretched man was occasionally supplied with money, and his case being desperate, danger, in his eyes, lost its forbidding aspect. The jaws of destruction were extended before him, and he rushed upon his fate with all its horrors staring him in the face.
In person Thistlewood was tall and thin; his countenance was dark, but by no means expressive. He had no family by either of his wives, but a natural son took leave of him on the day before his execution.
Richard Tidd, singularly enough, was born at Grantham, in the same county with the birth-place of his leader, in the year 1773, and he was brought up to the trade of a shoemaker. At the age of sixteen years he quitted his master, and went to Nottingham, and having lived there until he had reached the age of nineteen, he proceeded to London. Here he appears to have taken considerable interest in the politics of the day; but having, in the year 1803, committed perjury, in swearing himself a freeholder, in order to enable him to vote for Sir Francis Burdett, as member for Middlesex, he fled to Scotland, to avoid prosecution. Having resided there during five years, be then returned to England, and after a short stay at Rochester, he proceeded once again to the metropolis, where he became a party to the plot for which Colonel Despard and others were executed, but escaped their fate, by being temporarily absent from town. During the war he enlisted into more than half the regiments of the crown, but he had no sooner received the bounty, than he deserted; and it appears most extraordinary that he should have so frequently escaped. In 1818 he commenced his last residence in London, and he then exhibited violent political feelings. Having become acquainted with Brunt, he was introduced by him to Edwards, and the assumed violence of the latter suiting his feelings well, he eagerly closed with every proposition which he made, however desperate it might be. It is not a little remarkable that he had always an impression on his mind that he should be hanged, and he frequently declared his belief to this effect to his friends. He left a wife and daughter behind him to deplore the truth of his prediction.
James Ings was the son of a respectable tradesman in Hampshire, and being possessed of a considerable property, when he came of age, he married a respectable young woman, and entered into business as a butcher, at Portsmouth.
Trade growing bad at the termination of the war, and his property having decreased, some of his tenements were sold, and he came up to London in 1818, with a little ready money, produced by the sale of a house, and opened a butcher's shop at the west end of the town. He could, however, get no business, and in a few months gave up the shop; and, with a few pounds he had left, he opened a coffee-house in Whitechapel.
Here he became involved in great distress, and at last was compelled to pawn his watch, to enable him to send his wife and children down to Portsmouth, to her friends, to prevent their starving in London. At the coffee-house in Whitechapel he sold, besides coffee, political pamphlets; and having read the different Deistical publications, from being a churchman he became a confirmed Deist.
He was a most affectionate husband and father; and his desperate situation, no doubt, was a principal cause of his joining the Cato-street plot. Edwards, Adams, Thistlewood, and Brunt, had frequently visited him during the time he kept the coffee and pamphlet shop; and, when he was in more desperate circumstances, he became a fitter companion for persons engaged in such an atrocious crime as the one for which he suffered the sentence of the law.
For some weeks before the Cato-street discovery, Ings was in the utmost distress, quite penniless; and the means of subsistence were actually supplied to him by Edwards. At his instigation, also, he hired a room, in which he lodged, which was sufficiently capacious to contain a very considerable portion of the arms and ammunition of the gang.
This unfortunate man left a wife and four children to deplore his ignominious death.
William Davidson was born in the year 1786, at Kingston, in Jamaica, and was the second son of Mr. Attorney-General Davidson, a man of considerable legal knowledge and talent. He mother was a native of the West Indies, and a woman of colour. He was sent to England when very young, for the purpose of receiving an education suitable to the rank of his father, and his own prospects: and having obtained the first rudiments of knowledge, he was sent to an academy, where he studied mathematics. After some time he was apprenticed to a respectable attorney at Liverpool, at whose office he remained near three years, when he became tired of confinement, and ran away from his master. He now entered on board a merchantman, and on the first voyage was impressed. He arrived in England about six months afterwards, and wrote to his father's friend a supplicatory letter, and then, at his own particular desire, he was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker in Liverpool.
Davidson, though a man of colour, had a prepossessing person, and was upon the point of marriage with the daughter of a respectable tradesman at Liverpool, when, however, the match was broken off by his friends. He then took a passage on board a West-India merchantman, intending to return to his father; but he was again impressed on the voyage. On his return to port, he took the first opportunity of running away, and having obtained some money from his friends, he got work as a journeyman, at Litchfield. He subsequently paid his addresses to a Miss Salt, who was possessed of about 7,000l. of her own money, but her friends disapproving of the match, he became unsettled in his mind, and indisposed for business; and although his mother supplied him with 1200l. to commence trade on his own account, at Birmingham, in the course of twelve months he spent the whole of that sum, and repaired to London. Here he again obtained work, and was eventually married to a Mrs. Lane, a widow, with four children, who lived at Walworth, with whose assistance he began trade on his own account. Success, however, did not attend him, and he was compelled to remove to London, and to take a lodging at Mary-le-bone. While here, he appears to have joined the conspirators, into whose plans he entered with great willingness. He left two children of his own, by his wife, both of whom were under four years of age.
John Thomas Brunt was born in Union-street, Oxford-street; where his father carried on business as a tailor. He was for some time employed in the shop of a shoemaker, and he subsequently became an excellent workman in that business, and up to the age of twenty-three was the chief supporter of his mother, his father having died while he was yet young. At that age he married a respectable young woman, named Welch. On the 1st of May 1806, she brought him a boy, who was fourteen years of age on the day his unfortunate father suffered the sentence of the law. Brunt was thirty-eight years of age.
The following particulars with regard to Edwards, whose name so frequently occurs during the preceding narrative, will enable the reader to form a just estimate of his character.
It appears that he had been originally a modeller, and kept a little shop in Fleet-street, where he sold plaster-of-Paris images. His poverty had been always apparent until a few months previous to the Cato-street plot, when there is no doubt he accepted the wages of government, and became a spy. For this office he appears to have been admirably adapted, as he was shrewd, artful, and unprincipled. His former acquaintance with the Spenceans procured him the confidence of some of its deluded members; and through them he got acquainted with Thistlewood and the others.
There is little doubt that the Cato-street plot was "got up" by him, although he found the unfortunate men who were hanged willing instruments in his hands. He furnished the means of providing the destructive weapons which were found in their possession, and he actually made the grenades himself; and when Thistlewood had escaped from Cato-street, he conducted him to the lodgings where he was next day apprehended.
Immediately after the execution of the traitors, several persons made depositions before Alderman Wood, stating the numerous attempts of Edwards to seduce them from their allegiance, and the worthy alderman applied to the secretary of state to have the villain apprehended, but he refused to interfere. A motion was made in the House of Commons a few nights afterwards by the same alderman; but, although some debate took place upon the subject, no effect was produced other than the exposition of the system which had been resorted to. An indictment was next preferred before the grand jury of the county of Middlesex, upon which a true bill was found; but although a reward of 100l. was offered for the apprehension of Edwards, he was nowhere to be found; and it was eventually discovered that he had gone to New Brunswick, to avoid the unpleasant consequences to which his conduct might have subjected him.